Can you imagine having the Grand Canyon to yourself? No traffic to the South Rim, no hordes at the visitor center? Henry Shukman in The New York Times takes us on a long hike below the rim during the best time of year for exploration: now.
Why now? Because nobody’s there in winter, and because the sun is your friend, not your foe, when the temperatures drop.
But no matter the season, a hike to the bottom of the canyon is a challenge even for fit hikers. The relentless downhill (a full mile in elevation) takes its toll on the knees, only to force you to turn around and climb back up a mile to get out. But it’s the best way to appreciate the stunning landscape, with layers of rock chronicling the earth’s development, the oldest being almost two billion years old. And challenging as it may be, even an eight-year-old can do it, as Henry’s traveling companion, his son Saul, proves.
A recent October trip to Yosemite and Mariposa County, CA followed a huge rain storm. The robust waterfalls thundered all around and the scenery was more striking than I had remembered from my last trip at the end of July. Autumn colors enhanced the spectacular vistas and there was a crisp feel in the air. Not more than 50 yards from the trail two rutting male deer banged their antlers together putting on a great show. I had packed for winter; fleece, down jacket, hat and gloves. It was in the 70’s and I was in a sweat during the day; the weather can be so changeable. I was stressing before I left, worrying about whether I needed chains or not for the drive up; instead I swam in the hotel pools and applied sunscreen liberally.
My first night I spent at the Tenaya Lodge, right outside the park. The Tenaya had the feel of a Park Lodge, animal heads on the common room walls, giant beams and an outdoorsy style, but was considerably fancier than a rustic lodge. The bed was big and comfortable but unfortunately I slept poorly due to the altitude and a late night specialty coffee (decaf) that I suspect had more alcohol in it than I could tolerate. Elk was on the menu (which my kids were excited about) and I would love to take my family back to explore all the Lodge’s offerings.
Now is the time. The crowds are gone, the days are clear and warm and the nights are cool to cold. Mosquitoes and just about every other flying insect have bedded down for the winter or perished in the chill. Campsites are available. And Yosemite’s vaunted Tuolumne Meadows is as beautiful in the fall as ever.
I spent the 4th of July holiday weekend there, my first visit in 25 years, which told me a couple of things: just how quickly time can pass and a quarter of a lifetime can slip beneath your feet; and how short-sighted I’d been to allow so many years to drift away without making the simple four-hour-plus drive up from San Francisco. I swam in Tenaya Lake, fished the pools and streams that fed into it, got some strikes in the Tuolumne River as it wound through the meadows, and later, at Cathedral Lake, saw a trout with a head as big as my fist emerge from the depths to strike my lure repeatedly before losing interest, too smart to be caught by an occasional fisherman like me. Continue reading »
3 Comments | Filed Under Adventure Travel, California, Camping, Eco Friendly Travel, Family Travel, Feature, Fishing, Hike/Backpack, North America, Northern California, Travel, United States, Yosemite, wildlife
When I first heard about Camp Mather, a city run family camp near Yosemite, for San Francisco residents, I thought it sounded like a bad cross between the Catskills and a low-rent Club Med. In theory, I hate organized activities and en masse vacationing. It didn’t help that our close friends who I adore, who are British (cue Monty Python accent) raved about it saying how one can bring rugs, flags and ‘fairy lights’ and decorate your cabin; it sounded dismal to me. Yet, many of our close friends, people we love and admire, cool families with kids our age, said it was fantastic. So we took the plunge last year, did the lottery in January and got a spot. We had a lot of fun and although we felt we hadn’t drunk the Kool-Aid we decided to re-apply this year. I decided if it weren’t my ‘only’ vacation it was a great thing to do as a family and the kids loved the autonomy. Continue reading »
Last week I was invited to a friend’s rental house in Inverness in Marin County, on Tomales Bay, surrounded by Point Reyes National Seashore, with my five-year-old. We left the house at 7 a.m. to maximize our visit, stopped at House of Bagels (the best bagels in SF) and bought loads of yummy stuff and headed over the bridge. The sun was shining and I was so looking forward to spending quality time with my friend and her family.
Inverness is a small village named after the Scottish town and there is so much to recommend it. Continue reading »
I like city driving; not freeways, but I can handle the Marin route out of San Francisco. So, I have made the trip to the Healdsburg area in Sonoma County three times in the last few months. Recently, for a birthday party at a lovely B & B called the Gipson Bed & Breakfast, owned by an old friend and his wife.
I had been to the same spot last summer for an epic 50th Russian Dacha birthday party, where many guests camped and a Russian BBQ ensued with a zip line, trampoline, bubbles, pool, jacuzzi and pogo-sticks for the big and little kids and of course shots of vodka and blinis for the hearty adults. This time it was for a five-year-old’s party, the daughter of my friends, the innkeepers.
Healdsburg lies at the crossroads of three of California’s most famous wine growing appellations: Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley and the Russian River Valley. It is surrounded by more than 60 wineries and is a favorite Sonoma Wine Country destination. Continue reading »
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We were invited to a friend’s cabin in Bear Valley, California a few weeks ago. It was the last weekend for skiing, with ideal spring skiing weather. It was so warm as we drove up I couldn’t quite imagine that I would be on the slopes the next day. We stopped for an early dinner on the way, in the town of Murphys, a cute gold town hotspot. We had yummy tacos on a balmy spring evening at Firewood café and soaked in the warmth of the early evening sun
The next day we did wind up downhill skiing at the family friendly Bear Valley Resort. It was the first time in 12 years for me, even though I cross country ski a lot, and the first time, ever, for my two boys. On the Sunday our hosts suggested a walk in the Redwoods. I had no idea they were so close! This spot is nestled between Gold Country and Mountain ski resorts; what an amazing destination! Then I found out that where we were staying was just a stone’s throw from one of the premier Redwood Forests in Northern California. I’ve lived in San Francisco for more than 15 years and I have only visited the Redwoods a handful of times, and not in a long while. It was awesome. Continue reading »
There is always a dilemma, do you spread the word about a great place or keep quiet so others don’t intrude. Well it’s too late for Marin County’s Tennessee Valley. Any given weekend will find hordes of joggers, hikers, seniors, horseback riders and families hiking the trails of this Bay Area gem.
Nestled in Tam Valley, a part of Mill Valley, this spot is easily accessible by San Franciscans and Marinites alike. Over the years we have taken hard core hikes with friends, leisurely walks with visitors from out of town and quickie visits to get fresh air and bask in the beautiful scenery. If I were a visitor from abroad or out of town, this would be a great day trip to get a flavor of the tremendous wealth of the Bay Area hiking scene. Continue reading »
You know you live in California when you can take your cross-country ski gear out for a whirl and then stop for a picnic of sushi. We were up in the mountains last week for Spring Break visiting my sister–in-law who lives in South Lake Tahoe. The weather was perfect; about 35 degrees and alternately sunny and snowy. Folks were cycling around Lake Tahoe in their shorts and we headed up to 8000 feet near Kirkwood to ski in full winter regalia; long underwear, ski pants, hats, gloves and tons of sun block. It was such a pleasant spring getaway. When I lived in France, the French always used to say how important it was to experience ‘Le Sport d’Hiver’ (winter sports) each year. Necessary, they used to say, for the constitution. Chapped, rosy cheeked and with huge appetites, my boys and I enjoyed a couple of yummy meals after a long day of skiing. Goodfellas pizza and Taqueria Jalisco were our favorite picks, recommended by my brother-in-law who was a chef in Hawaii before moving to the mountains. Continue reading »
Local Bay Area residents or visitors from out of town will love taking the family tide pooling at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve on a sunny day down the coast from San Francisco near Montara in San Mateo County. It is about a half hour drive from the city just a few miles north of Half Moon Bay. It can be crowded but the excitement in finding star fish, or sea stars as my five-year-old says they are now called, is immense.
Bring your water sandals and be prepared for some slippery rocks. Check the tides so you can be sure to have the best conditions for viewing. Harbor seals bask in the sun out on the rocks and kids and adults alike enjoy an up close and personal look at the sea life. You can see barnacles, sea stars, limpets, crabs, anemones, sponges and nudibranchs in the area sometimes called the Splash Zone. Continue reading »